By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – A relatively short two-hour drive from the city of Rio de Janeiro followed by a quick boat trip, and you may think you’ve entered another world. It is Ilha Grande (Big Island), one of the most beautiful islands off Brazil’s famous ‘Costa Verde’ (Green Coast).
Ilha Grande’s close proximity to the city, natural beauty and wealth of activities on offer for visitors make it a perfect destination for weekend getaways.
Tavi Noren, from Rio Love Story, organizes shuttles to and from the city the Ilha Grande. “To get to Ilha Grande from Rio, I recommend taking a land transfer to Concepção de Jacarei, an approximately two-hour trip, where there is a small port with boats that will rapidly take you to the main village of Vila do Abraão.”
There is something for everyone on Ilha Grande, including a handful of beaches that regularly make it onto lists for the most beautiful beaches in Brazil or indeed the world. Voted by The Guardian as one of the most beautiful beaches of Brazil in 2009, Lopes Mendes beach stretches for three kilometers of white sand and clear waters with virtually untouched surroundings.
However, there are plenty of other wonderful beaches all around the island, including Aventureiro, which has a camping option, and ‘Dois Rios’ (Two Rivers) which hosts the island’s now-deserted ‘presídio Cândido Mendes’ (Cândido Mendes Prison) and has great options for fishing.
For first-time visitors, Noren suggests, “Starting your first day on the island with a schooner boat tour that will show you around the island and you will have the opportunity to snorkel alongside tropical fish and visit beautiful lagoons.”
He adds, “On day two you can wake up early to hike up one of the highest points on the island called ‘Pico do Papagaio’ (The Parrot Peak). This hike is not easy and it takes a day to get up and down, but it is more than worth it. From the peak you have a view over the whole region, which is made up of 365 islands.”
Vila do Abraão, the main village on the island, and home to around 3,000 inhabitants, is where the many island boat tours usually depart from. This is also home to many of the diving schools, such as Elite Dive Center, where the adventurous can go on a scuba diving tour to see turtles, sting rays, seahorses and much more, all with English-speaking, fully qualified guides.
Noren continues, “Vila do Abraão is also a good place to accommodate yourself because the many ‘pousadas’ (bed and breakfasts), hostels, and even camping options that exist here. However, you absolutely have to book well ahead in time on dates that fall on Brazilian holidays because then the places usually become completely full.”
For those looking for something a little less strenuous, there is ‘Namaste Terapias Corporais’ (Namaste Body Therapies), a therapeutic massage and spa center that is perfect for the odd rainy day or to recover from a long hike. In Ilha Grande, cars are forbidden, and so the best way to get around is often either by hiking or by boat.
Visitors who aren’t camping on the island can either choose to stay in one of the more upmarket luxury hotels on the island, such as Asalem or Vila Pedra Mar, or the many cheaper but no less accommodating pousadas, such as Lagamar, Aratinga, or Tagomago Beach Lodge.